French Food vs Spanish Tapas

Nine months ago we moved to rural Normandie France, a long way from the food capitals of Paris and Lyon. I have come to the conclusion that French food is boring, at least in our part of France, yet according to articles in the New York Times and Forbes many are saying the same thing about Paris. The quality is fine, but what we have discovered is that the French like their traditional dishes prepared in the traditional way, innovation is not encouraged.

Though mustard, which here always means Dijon, is quite a bit stronger than its counter part in the US, the rest of the seasonings are quite mild. I love a good cassoulet, or grilled cabillaud (cod) but some variety would be nice.

We spent this last week in Donostia, Spain – San Sebastian for all the non-Basque speaking folks out there. Though we have had tapas in many restaurants, from Healdsburg in California, to Bath, England and points in between, we have never experienced food and eating like this past week.

Tapas bars have long display cases loaded with delightful and creative choices: plenty of anchovies, stuffed sea-urchin, chorizo, shrimp, octopus, and more. You simply point to what you want, eat a couple at one place, then move on to another. Here is a photo of one of our favorites courtesy of Tricia. You can see more at her blog Travels Through My Lens.

People sit or stand at the bar or sit at tables, eating, talking and laughing. In French restaurants people tend to quietly chat at their own table, the only more loud folks are foreigners, and the French don’t appreciate loud talk at all in restaurants. Here are a couple of tapas bar sketches. Eli was one of our favorite servers, all of the staff were wonderful.

Every morning, as is my habit when traveling, I have coffee at the same place and sketch. Getting to know the people at the place makes it a bit like living there. This cafe was on a narrow street just up from the marina in Donostia.

Our hotel was next to the marina, it is in the upper left corner of this sketch, just above the wall – the one in the background with the wrought-iron and the Juliet balcony.

We left Donostia and headed to Bordeaux for a couple of days, sorry to leave but we were looking forward to the legendary city. We enjoyed it, though we liked Donostia better.

The people of Europe spend a lot of time outside, even on a cold day. An afternoon coffee in the cold is quite the norm. World Cup was on so I sketched folks watching the match at the cafe across the square from us. Tricia took a photo of the bird on our table, watch her upcoming posts for a surprising and hilarious story about how it all turned out.

One big surprise was the food, Bordeaux made me realize that there is still interesting food in France. I think the issue is that we live in a rural farm community, and like similar communities in Oregon and Washington the food tends to be predictable.

This was our lunch at Le Clemonceau. The entree was crab in an amazing sauce, and my roast pork with the creamiest polenta was such a treat. Thanks again Tricia for the photos.

The next day we ate at La Cantina, a Corsican restaurant, with beignets, moules, and Corsican chestnut beer, so good. We both agreed that if we lived in Bordeaux we would be regulars.

So any place can have good food, and yes, sometimes food can be boring, but if we just get out and about there are discoveries to be found. Most people that cook have a bit of creativity in them, our job as foodies and travelers is to seek them out.

Of course the best part of Bordeaux, as all you fountain pen lovers will understand, was the pen store and my new Pilot Capless Pen. After a bit of tweaking with the ink it is the best writing and sketching pen I own, and I do have a few – thankfully Tricia is so supportive of my addiction. Here is an early sketch using the pen and a photo of the pen.

Keep on traveling and sketching – and of course eating good food. If you sketch I would love to seen them, you can email or tag #thetravelsketcher on Instagram.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. David E Buehler says:

    I never thought I would hear Terry say that French food was boring. Maybe I have lived too long on this earth. I might head to McDonalds where the variability in offerings is limitless. LOL Glad you are enjoying yourselves on the Continent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it is where we live. I am sure if you lived in Forks, before the vampires made it famous, the food in the cafes would all be pretty much like a Denny’s.


      1. David E Buehler says:

        Yes, you are correct. We had some friends that lived in Orofino, ID that we would visit and they would rave about the various restaurants and they were pretty much frozen food heated up. So I suspect you are right.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. griswhirl says:

    Hi Terry…Just a note to let you know that I have been an avid follower of your move to France and all the issues you and your family, cat included have faced…I started following you as a sketcher but have become more interested in your journey as well. Like you, I find French food to finally be very boring…and I will see if things have changed when I visit in May for a longer then usual stay. I am curious as to your travel plans in May since I just noticed that the UskFrance is holding a meet up in Toulouse at the end of the month. I will be in Paris then and in the Loire Valley in early June and have been thinking about going to Toulouse. Do you have any current information? Just curious.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. Interesting that you will be in France then, I can find the info, though it seems like I usually find out about events the day they are happening, argh. We may consider Toulouse in May, any chance you would be near Normandy, we could connect. Are you on instagram?


  3. griswhirl says:

    I forgot to mention that I am very interested in your ability to sketch on the go, and so follow your posts about tools and materials very closely. I bought the small sketching set of felt brush dual tip pens…and last week I had a malfunction with a couple of them…like the Posca’s, I suddenly had a huge blob of watercolor land on the paper…I flew with them back from South America and am wondering if I should have kept them in the cabin with me…have you had an similar experiences? I don’t want to invest in more colors until I know a bit more…as it turned out, it was a happy accident, but that isn’t always the case.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. As you probably know I earned my title of theTravelsketcher from spending 25 years traveling all over the world, so I have had some experiences with travel and brushes. How about we have a better discussion by email? Send me one at and we will see what we can do.


  4. Shirley says:

    This posting was a heady combination of sight and sound and flavors and photos and sketches. We’ve never spent time in Spain–just port cities off a cruise ship–but after reading and looking through this post, our taste buds are really, really interested. As always–thanks for this thoughtful, fun, and artistic travelogue! (Looking forward to the pigeon on the table story; hopefully it wasn’t there for dinner–or to become dinner…)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You will like the story, for sure.


  5. elissbaker says:

    This post is a delight, Terry. All of your posts are chock full with interesting (and useful) travel information and sweet personal stories. Wonderful to read. Thank you. (And the sketches! Yum.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Janice says:

    That’s probably one of the best things about travel, I think, are the surprises one didn’t plan on or expect. I do wish we could do the more social eating and just living – especially outside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so true. For us social eating has always been a mainstay. When we travel finding an interesting place to eat is as important as seeing the Eiffel Tower, no, a lot more important. So I get what you say, and in Europe outside eating is not just a summer thing.


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